Mr. Seward to Mr. Hale
Sir: The President thinks that a time has come when he can with propriety ask the attention of her Catholic Majesty’s government to the very interesting subject of slavery in the Spanish islands near the United States, viz: Cuba and Porto Rico. You are, therefore, expected to mention it in a confidential manner to Mr. De Castro. You will assure him, in the first place, that this government does not in any case indulge any thought in the nature or spirit of intervention, and that the suggestions now made are inspired by feelings of entire respect and good will towards Spain and those provinces.[Page 575]
Although this government has in no manner published the fact, yet it has nevertheless observed that the policy of emancipation seems to be profoundly agitating the people of all classes, white, black, and colored in those islands. This condition of things is, perhaps, due in a large degree to a ripening of the consciences and judgments of mankind every where in regard to the institution of slavery. The desire for emancipation in the islands mentioned has undoubtedly been intensified by the success with which it has been recently crowned in the United States. It seems unreasonable to suppose that slavery could be perpetuated in any part of the West Indies, after its extinguishment throughout the American continent, except Brazil.
I make these observations with greater freedom, because I am aware that the subject is already in the thoughts of the government, as well as of the people of Spain. The United States think that Spain herself could within a reasonable time be able to conform the social and political institutions of those islands to the principle of universal freedom, without hazarding the calamities of civil war, if her freedom of action should not be affected injuriously by external agencies and influences. It is the desire of this government that she may exercise this independence and enjoy its beneficial results.
It is hardly necessary to acknowledge that at a period not long past, many persons in this and other countries conceived and attempted a dangerous design of disturbing the peace and security of Cuba. That design, so far as it was embraced by any portion of the American people, received its impulse, as it is believed, from a desire among slaveholders here, that the island with its slaveholding population might be annexed to the United States, and thus increase the slaveholding political interest, which then was a great power in our country. It would be a strange thing if now a propagandism of emancipation should prompt a portion of the people in several of the American republics to similar aggressions. It is to be expected that such a proceeding would be far more effective when seeming to have the sanction of benevolence, than was the aggressive movement to which I have referred, which former movement had for its encouragement here the contrary spirit of slaveholding aggrandizement I hope it will not be thought either unfriendly or unbecoming on my part when I say that the controversies with which Spain has been involved during the last four years with several of the republican states of South America, have produced a feeling of exasperation in most, if not all, of the Spanish-American states; that those states, justly calculating upon the sympathies of the people of the United States, are not likely to be slow in directing public attention everywhere to the now anomalous toleration of slavery in the Spanish dependencies, so ultimately connected in commercial and social intercourse with the people of the United States. When you have made these observations to Mr. De Castro, you will have said all that it seems necessary to have said at the present time upon this important subject. The President has no apprehension that the motives of these suggestions will be misinterpreted.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
John P. Hale, Esq., &c., &c., &c.